Acts: Saving Faith

After Stephen’s death, followers of The Way were scattered all around the region because of persecution and as they went, they proclaimed the gospel. One of those traveling preachers was Philip, who was among the first disciples chosen to minister to the church (Acts 6:1-6). This would be a good place to stop and read Acts 8:1-25.

Philip went to Samaria, preached Christ, and performed miracles of healing and casting out demons. His ministry brought the Samaritans “great Joy” – and a lot of attention (vv. 5-8). Cue a man named Simon who was a very popular sorcerer. He was called “the divine power known as the Great Power” (vv. 9-11). That is until Philip came along and they were introduced to the power of Lord Jesus Christ. The text says that Simon believed and was baptized and began to follow Philip, astonished by the miracles and signs he performed (vv. 12-13).

When word of Philip’s ministry got back to the apostles in Jerusalem Peter and John came to help. They prayed for the new believers to receive the Holy Spirit (v. 15). Simon wanted it – not the Holy Spirit, but the ability to impart the Holy Spirit to others. He saw it as another magic trick that would make him popular in the new community of faith. He offered the apostles money if they could give him this power (v. 18-19). Peter saw right through Simon and rebuked him, declaring that his “heart is not right,” and he was “full of bitterness and captive to sin” (vv. 21-23) and he should repent. We never know if he did.

If everything in the Bible is meant to instruct us (Rom 15:4), what are we to learn from Simon? I believe we are looking at the difference between intellectual faith and saving faith. There is a “faith” that acknowledges the existence of God without trusting in God. James said, “You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that – and shudder” (Jas 2:19). Satan knows all too well that God exists, but he still rebels against Him. So do people. Hebrews 4:2 says that people hear the gospel, but it is “of no value to them, because [they] do not combine it with faith.” This faith is marked by obedience and utter dependence on Christ.

Christian service is not a means to popularity, although some super-pastors have made it their gravy train. Jesus said that those who belong to the world are loved by the world, but those who belong to Him are hated by the world (Jn 15:18-21). I believe Simon’s faith was not saving faith. Sadly, I believe the same could be said for many who claim to be Christians. This is too important to gloss over. Beloved, how’s your faith?

The Way of Holiness

Hebrews 12:14 says “Make every effort to live in peace with all men and to be holy; without holiness, no one will see the Lord.”  That’s a mighty strong statement – one that should give us pause. I don’t know about you but I want to see the Lord. That doesn’t just mean I want to lay eyes on Him. The word the writer used there means “to be admitted into intimate and blessed fellowship with God in his future kingdom,” ( That’s what I want.

If holiness is the condition for seeing God, how do I get holy? I don’t. I have to be made holy.  The writer of Hebrews said that Jesus came to do the will of God (Heb 10:9). But what is the will of God? To make us holy (v. 10), that is, to make us into the very likeness of His Son (Rom 8:29). Paul said that God’s purpose is that we might “be holy and blameless in His sight” (Eph 1:4). That is what the cross is all about. Jesus nailed our sins to His cross (Col 2:13-14) and shed His blood to give us His holiness.

Surely, though, God has some expectations of me. Indeed, He does. He expects me to carry myself according to who I am in Christ. He expects me to choose holiness. Paul (again) said, “God did not call us to be impure, but to live a holy life (1 Thes 4:7). This agrees perfectly with Jesus’ teaching in the Beatitudes: “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God” (Mat 5:8). It’s the exact same “see” as we find in the Hebrews passage. Purity of heart brings holiness.

What does that look like in real life? “The grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men. It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, while we wait . . . for Jesus” (Titus 2:11-12). Saying “No” when the world and our flesh says “I want,” Looking for the way out of temptation (1 Cor 10:13). Submitting to the Holy Spirit (Rom 8:5-17). Turning away from every evil desire and pursuing “righteousness, faith, love, and peace along with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart.” (2 Tim 2:22).

God has a highway, “called the Way of Holiness [and] it will only be for those who walk in that Way” (Is 35:8). No wonder Jesus said, “I am the Way . . .” (Jn 14:6). Beloved are you riding on the “Highway to Heaven?”


I never thought of myself as a perfectionist. I knew “perfect” was so far out of my league, I didn’t expect it. That is until I started back to school, and I became discouraged when I didn’t get an A on an assignment or missed even one question on a test. I wanted to be perfect – after all, isn’t that what God expects of me? Isn’t that what Jesus said? “Be perfect, therefore, as your Heavenly Father is perfect” (Mat 5:48).

We know that God is perfect, and we also know that we are not. We are flawed, we are weak, we have tempers and attitudes and prejudices; we are selfish and self-centered. We are human, with all that our humanness entails. And we are sinful. Jesus knows all this. So why, then does He tell us “Be perfect.”? Why throw out a command He knows we will never achieve?

The word “perfect” means “perfect,” but it also means “complete, mature, finished.” James used the same word when he said “Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything” (Jas 1:4). Modern translators have Jesus saying “perfect” and James saying “mature,” but the word in the Greek is exactly the same. This “perfection” is the life-long process of growing and becoming mature believers, and it doesn’t happen overnight. It is also the perfecting work of the Holy Spirit in our lives, as He leads and guides us on to this maturity. Knowing that I am “a work in progress” frees me from the burden of perfectionism.

The root word for both “perfect” and “mature” means “end result, outcome, goal”. This is the work of Christ that achieves the end result of perfection. The writer of Hebrews said, “By one sacrifice He (Christ) has made perfect forever those who are being made holy” (Heb 10:14). Christ has made us perfect now before the Father through His sacrifice on the cross, even while His Spirit works in us to make us holy. The final perfection comes when we get to heaven, the perfect place for perfect people!

Perfection is the aim, not as an unrealistic goal but as a present truth and a future promise. Beloved, always strive for perfection, keeping your eye on the ideal – on Jesus. Yes, you will stumble and you will fail. That’s why He sent you a Savior – a Savior who makes you perfect in every way.

Acts: Holy Boldness

Just as Jesus was a praying teacher, the first church was a praying church. After their arrest and confrontation with the Sanhedrin, Peter and John returned to the gathering of believers and replayed the whole event, including the demand that they stop speaking in the name of Jesus (Acts 4:18). The people immediately “raised their voices together in prayer to God” (v. 24). This would be a good time for you to grab your Bible and read Acts 4:23-31.

One thing that has always stood out to me about the prayers in the Bible is they were unlike my own. My prayers tend to be whiny and ramble on and on.  The prayers of God’s people were almost always God-centered, concise, and simple. Let’s look at this prayer. First, they laid a strong foundation declaring God’s sovereignty, power, and authority (vs. 24-25). Only then did they present their request to God (v. 25b-27). They remembered that men have plotted against God for generations – this current dilemma was nothing new to Him. They declared that God’s power and purpose overrode the enemy’s scheming. “They did what your power and will had decided beforehand should happen” (v. 28).

Then they laid the matter before the Lord and got read to get back to the work God had given them. “Now, Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness” (v. 29). They put the battle – and their enemies – in God’s hands and carried on with the divine mission. They asked for boldness to continue doing what got them in trouble in the first place. That ought to be a lesson for us in this evil generation.

Then something remarkable happened. “After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly” (v. 31). Why are our churches not being shaken (up)? Why are we not speaking the word of God boldly today? I believe it is because we are praying in fear, not in faith. I’m guilty. I find that I’m praying more about what can go wrong than what God can do right.  And too often I’m praying that life will get easier, not that I will get bolder. It’s no wonder the Spirit isn’t shaking me up.

It is right and good to present our problems and struggles to the Lord in prayer. But then we need to ask for the power and boldness to continue in our divine calling. Beloved, it’s time to stop shaking in fear and start shaking in the Spirit.

This Little Light of Mine

The world today is on a mission to eradicate Christ. But that’s nothing new. The religious leaders tried to shut Jesus’ disciples down – or up – depending on how you look at it. Acts 4 and 5 record how the Sanhedrin gave them “strict orders not to teach in His name” (5:28) and imprisoned and flogged them for refusing to do so. The first martyr, Stephen was stoned for his passionate testimony. For centuries, thousands of men and women have died for the name of Jesus and His gospel. They still do. The ancient church father, Tertullian said, “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.”

Today laws are enacted to keep Christ out of the culture, away from public places, and shut up inside the walls of the church. But that is impossible because believers carry His Spirit with them wherever they go. Jesus promised to send the Holy Spirit, not just to hover over us like He did at creation (Gen 1:2), but to “live with you and be in you” (Jn 14:17). When you go to school, the Spirit of Christ goes with you. When you go to work, the Spirit is there in you. When you go to the mall or the gym or stand in the public square, you bear the Spirit of the very God that has been deemed inappropriate, offensive, and in many places, illegal.

As long as Jesus tarries His people will bring His Spirit into dark places and sad places and places where the devil has staked a claim. And that will not make us popular. The Lord said, the Spirit “will convict the world of sin and righteousness and judgment” (Jn 16:8). That means believers don’t have to stand on a street corner with a bullhorn and call down fire and brimstone on sinners.  The writer of Hebrews said that Noah “condemned the world by his faith” (11:7). Just living uncompromised godly lives stands out in stark contrast to the wicked world around us.

But don’t fret. Whatever laws man may pass have no bearing on where God belongs. David said, “The earth is the Lord’s and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it” (Ps 24:1). He will not be denied the full reign of His creation. Beloved, let His Spirit shine wherever you are.

Road Trip!

We’re planning a fun day trip with Joy today in Poppy’s truck.  Every mile of our adventure will be powered by the combustion engine under the hood. That engine has two jobs: to take in fuel and to put out power. My husband will provide the fuel by filling up the gas tank and the engine will produce the power which will push the truck down the road.

Paul knew nothing about a combustion engine, but he understood the principle. He wrote, “Continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to His good purpose” (Php 2:12-13). Do you see the principle? What God works in – you work out. God is at work in you through His Word and His Spirit – providing power, wisdom, strength, and righteousness. Your job is to take what He provides and work it out in your life.

He gives you His power to overcome the devil. You work out that power by “standing your ground” (Eph 6:13) against the enemy until he runs from you (Ja 4:7). He gives you His wisdom to make godly decisions. You believe His wise counsel and act according to His will (Rom 12:2). He gives you His strength to endure the trials so that you can persevere with Joy (Ja 1:2), knowing that God is working all things for the good (Rom 8:28). He gives you His righteousness so you can live a holy life. He gives you a way out of temptation, and you take it. He gives you His love so that you can love others – even those who are hard to love. He gives you His Spirit, and you work it out by living by the Spirit (Gal 6:16), being led by the Spirit (v. 18), and keeping in step with the Spirit (v. 25). He gives you His Word to teach, rebuke, correct, and train you in righteousness – you work it out by study and obedience.

You would think we were crazy if we jumped in the truck and expected to make our trip without any fuel to power the engine. How crazy is it to try to live godly lives without the truth of the Word and the power of God’s Spirit? Beloved, God is providing the fuel for holy living (2 Pet 1:3) – all you have to do is work out what He is pouring in. Get your motor running – it’s time to hit the road!

The Best Teacher

I was looking through the Psalms this morning and the Spirit brought several verses to my attention. Let’s see if you can detect the theme:

“Show me Your ways, O Lord, teach me Your paths; guide me in Your truth and teach me, for You are God my Savior and my hope is in You all day long” (25:4-5).

“He guides the humble in what is right and teaches them His way” (v. 9).

“Who, then, is the man that fears the Lord? He will instruct him in the way chosen for him” (v. 12).

“Teach me Your way, O Lord; lead me in a straight path” (27:11).

“I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you and watch over you” (32:8).

“Teach me Your way, O Lord, and I will walk in Your truth . . .” (86:11)

The Christian faith is first and foremost about salvation – about bringing sinful men and women to repentance and cleansing and eternal life through Jesus Christ, God’s Son. But He doesn’t save us and then leave us to figure it out on our own. He teaches us how to live this different life. He teaches us to walk in the straight way, in His ways which are holy and righteous. He teaches us by His Word and His Spirit. He teaches us by the example of His Son who lived a perfect life of love and grace and holiness. He teaches us through people who preach, teach, mentor, and live their faith out loud every day. And I am living proof that He teaches us by the mistakes and missteps we make. I will have my Doctorate soon in the school of hard knocks.

I have always loved to learn. I used to sit on the floor next to our family’s bookshelves and read the encyclopedias. And then I discovered the Bible and my heart and mind exploded. I also discovered that God loves to teach, it’s a match literally made in heaven. But you don’t have to be a nerd or a scholar to learn what God wants to teach you. He tailors the courses to each person, but the student learning outcome is always the same: that you and I would look like Jesus. Beloved, come join me in this divine class. I’ll save a seat for you.

Acts: Tell them the Gospel

What is the most powerful message you’ve ever heard? How did it affect you and how did you respond? Peter had just declared the gospel to the awestruck crowd. He spoke of God’s purpose in the death of Jesus and the prophecies that He fulfilled. He talked of the Lord’s resurrection and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Then he proclaimed that “God made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ” (Acts 2:14-36). And the people believed him. “They were cut to the heart . . .” meaning they felt pain and deep sorrow because they had rejected – and even crucified – God’s Son, the Messiah they had long awaited.

But here’s the important part, [they] said . . . ‘Brothers, what shall we do?’” (v. 37). The message convicted them and moved them to respond. Peter answered with the essential elements of conversion: “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (v. 38). Repentance, baptism, forgiveness, and the Holy Spirit.  

There’s an important lesson for the church here. When the gospel is proclaimed simply and clearly, people will respond to it. Peter didn’t add theatrics – he just told them the truth. They were sinners and deserved God’s wrath, but in love, He sent His Son to bear the punishment for their sins. He died and rose to life for their forgiveness and eternal life. If they will believe this, repent of their sins, and submit to baptism they will be saved and filled with the Holy Spirit.  Respond they did: “about three thousand were added to their number” (v. 41).

There is one more important point to Peter’s message. Luke said that He “warned and pleaded with them, ‘Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.’” (v. 40). Charles Spurgeon said, “If sinners be damned, at least let them leap to Hell over our dead bodies. And if they perish, let them perish with our arms wrapped about their knees, imploring them to stay. If Hell must be filled, let it be filled in the teeth of our exertions, and let not one go unwarned and unprayed for.” Beloved, you and I live among a corrupt generation and we need to warn and plead with the lost to repent and come to Jesus. We can’t afford to soft-pedal the gospel. We must tell them the truth. Their eternal destiny hangs in the balance.

Acts: Holy Spirit Fire

If you’ve been paying attention lately, there is a mighty move of the Holy Spirit afoot in the world today. The reports coming out of Asbury University in Lexington, Kentucky are breathtaking and powerful. Pilgrims from around the US are flocking to Hughes Auditorium where a revival has broken out. A group of students decided to stay after the regular chapel service for a time of worship. Six days later (at this writing) the worship continues and shows no signs of letting up. Social media has turned it into a worldwide phenomenon. It’s not the first time that the Spirit has infiltrated Asbury – a two-week-long revival service occurred there in 1970. Christians across the globe are ecstatic that the Lord is still showing up and showing off.

What will God do as a result of this divine event? Heaven only knows. The first Holy Spirit revival turned the world upside down. After Jesus’ death, resurrection, and ascension, His followers gathered together in prayer, and the Lord answered in an awesome way. Acts 2 is the account of the Holy Spirit coming at Pentecost. I appreciate John Polhill’s assessment of the scene, calling it “the great outburst of the Spirit.”[1] Pentecost was one of the three great harvest festivals of Judaism. It fell exactly fifty days after Passover before the Feast of Tabernacles. Pentecost was the celebration of the Firstfruits or the offering from the wheat harvest. It was one of the most popular festivals and brought many Jews and God-fearing Gentiles to Jerusalem.

It was the perfect time for a mighty display of the Holy Spirit that could not be ignored. And so He came. He came with the sound of a violent wind. He came with the vision of tongues of fire. He came with audible speech in languages that spoke to the foreign visitors in the city; one message declaring the wonders of God to the world. They took the message back home with them and spread the story of God far and wide.

The church was born at Pentecost. Perhaps the church is being “born again” in our day at Asbury. Maybe God is preparing His people for another mighty move of His Spirit in the world. Beloved, let’s not miss the opportunity to be part of it.

[1]. John B. Polhill, The New American Commentary: Vol. 26:Acts (Nashville, Broadman & Holman, 1992), 95.

Acts: The Praying Church

(Well, I goofed yesterday. I took the day off to spend with my husband for his birthday and forgot it was Monday. I missed the Acts study. I apologize and offer it a day late.)

What do you do when life seems to go completely off the rails? After Jesus’ ascension, the bewildered disciples returned to Jerusalem. And there they set the character of the church. The first congregation was a “praying church” as the disciples and followers of Jesus met together after His ascension (vs. 12-13). Verse 14 says that “They all joined together constantly in prayer.” Now, this doesn’t mean that they all sat in the same room for a prayer meeting. The phrase “constantly in prayer” means “to be steadfastly attentive unto, to give unremitting care to a thing.”

I attended a church where the deacons (which my husband was) and wives (that was me) went to mandatory prayer meetings every Sunday night.  We often sat behind one couple who played games on their phones the whole time. Another woman sat at the end of our row thumbing through a magazine while her husband reverently bowed his head and slept. The same handful of people prayed out loud every week, waxing elephants with their piety. I never felt less spiritual in all my life.

Luke says that all these people were together in one place with one mind and one heart, praying with one purpose – the coming of the Holy Spirit. They believed that Jesus would fulfill His promise (1:4-8) and so they waited in faith and prayer.  By the way – the fact that women were present is shocking for the day as the Jewish traditions kept men and women apart for any religious activity. The fact that his brothers were there is also incredible.  These were the same brothers who scoffed at Jesus and denied His claim to be the Son of God. Now they were crowded together, putting their lives on the line for a truth they had long eschewed. I posed a question at the beginning of this devotional: “What do you do when life goes off the rails? Jesus’ followers turned to prayer and faith while they waited for Him to do what He promised. There have been more than a few times I felt like everything had fallen apart in my life. I’m learning to follow their example. Beloved when everything goes wrong you can too. Pray in faith and wait.